The Florida panther is clinging to survival on a habitat area that represents just five percent of its original range. Once abundant throughout the state, the panther now occupies just a few parcels in southwest Florida in a population that is thought to number around 100 animals.
While the panther's survival is increasingly imperiled by habitat loss, vehicle collisions, and loss of genetic diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has yet to designate critical habitat to protect what little viable habitat area remains for the iconic cat. Despite agreement by biologists that the species faces a high likelihood of extinction in the absence of protections for its remaining habitat, FWS continues to approve new roads and other development in the heart of panther country.
In the period from 1984 to 2009, FWS approved 127 developments in areas that it deemed could adversely affect the panther. Those projects destroyed nearly 100,000 acres (96,124) of panther habitat while less than 42,000 acres (41,612) were "preserved" either on or offsite of the projects. It is unclear how many of those preserved acres actually benefit the panther.
In its checkered history of panther conservation, the agency has hidden behind numerous excuses to justify its failure to act including flawed science and the position, outlined in its Recovery Plan, that insufficient habitat exists in Florida to allow for recovery, regardless of agency actions. Panther biologists say that the panther can recover in Florida, given the political will to establish and enforce protections. Read more about the woefully deficient plans to protect the panther thus far and take action.